The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee

Have you read "The Bones of Paradise" by Jonis Agee? What did you think of it? Every year Nebraskans are encouraged to read a specific book to facilitate a common topic of discussion. We are fortunate enough to have this year's author visit the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library August 25 at 1:30 p.m. to share in our community discussion. Everyone is welcome to come listen to Agee speak.

Jonis Agee's book "The Bones of Paradise" was chosen as the 2022 One Book One Nebraska selection. Agee is the Adele Hall Chair of English at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and has written several books. Her works include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories. Agee received the Nebraska Book Award twice and authored three different titles honored as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

"The Bones of Paradise" begins with two murders which don't seem to be connected. As the story continues, it moves in and out of the present day at the family's ranch in the 1900s through recent history at 1890 Wounded Knee. It also delves into some of the characters’ pasts. The main characters in "The Bones of Paradise" are complex and sometimes make choices that readers may find confounding. 

The timeline moves through various characters and a number of storylines. This style of writing is necessary to reveal the backstory so the reader can fully understand the current events. The characters include ranchers and ranch hands as well as some Lakota folks. The plot hinges on how they all came to be in the story.

Agee teaches creative writing, and it comes through in her books. Her writing is descriptive and more literary than plot-driven, “She stooped to pick a wild pink rose, avoiding the tiny spines that slivered like unseen glass hairs onto one's fingers. There was little scent, but the creamy softness of the petals like the insides of a dog's ear more than made up for it. She placed one on her tongue, and imagined she could taste the hills, the bittersweet tang of life.” 

Agee's specialties are lyrical description and a firm sense of place. This book takes place in the sandhills, somewhere south of Valentine, Nebraska. She has a knack for vivid description. "To the right was a vast blue lake, the surrounding marsh alive with birds feeding and mating. The air bore the moist scent of water, so blue it put the distant white-blue sky to shame. She shaded her eyes to stare at the lake where pelicans floated peacefully. Nearby a pair of  swans stretched their long necks searching the waters for food, and farther on, ducks dove and flapped, green necks glistening in the sun." 

At the heart of this lyrical book is a mystery, but western fans might enjoy it as well. If you like a book that keeps you turning pages, this one might not be for you. "The Bones of Paradise" by Jonis Agee  would not pass the grandma test, due to some coarse language. Agee has written a number of books. We have four novels and a collection of short stories on the fiction shelf at the Gering Public Library.